Image by Zdeněk Tobiáš

Anti-postmodern commentaries are certainly in vogue these days. Whether penned by conservatives or liberals, they all support the same basic assumption: postmodernism is dangerous. For instance, Robert Sibley suggests that postmodernism has led to “the total eclipse of all values,” while Terry Glavin blames the American academic left and “the gospel of postmodernism” for the rise of Trumpism. According to Glavin, postmodernism’s emphasis on the social construction of facts “effectively cleared the field for President Donald Trump’s lies in the first place.” Jordan Peterson has insisted that transgender activists who demand he use their preferred pronouns represent a “a post-modern, radical leftist ideology” that is “frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.” Helen Pluckrose, Areo’s own editor-in-chief, believes that postmodernism “presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but to modernity itself.”

But, all too often, anti-postmodernists rely on hyperbole, polemic and conjecture, rather than balanced arguments.

Postmodernism in a Nutshell

In his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition, Jean François Lyotard refers to postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives”: a suspicion of anyone who forwards big stories about how the world works. Since truth, knowledge and interpretation are human constructs and therefore limited, we must always be aware of their contingent nature.

Basically, what postmodernism says is that we only have access to the material world through human descriptions of it. Since none of us comes equipped with a God’s-eye point of view, we must interpret reality with the vocabularies at our disposal, such as those established by science, philosophy, law, ethics, sociology and a myriad other disciplines. Diverse perspectives then compete to determine standards for truth.

Postmodernism does not eliminate value judgments. Nietzsche’s concept of the “death of God” refers to the death of absolute values, not of values per se. To resolve the dilemma of epistemic relativism—the belief in personal or culturally specific truths or facts—conflicting points of view are scrutinized. Those lacking merit will be abandoned, while those with more credibility win  support.

Nietzschean scholars have long accepted this process of value exchange. In his 1909 dissertation, Friedrich Nietzsche on the Philosophy of the Right and State, Nikos Kazantzakis reminds us that, once discredited truths have been jettisoned, humankind “erects a new ranking of values and new ideals of humanity, society and state.” In other words, there is no unchangeable principle or final ethical boundary. We are continuously searching for more rigorous ways to explain existence.

Postmodernism, then, does not reject truth: it only suggests that it is provisional. Over time, certain propositions will inevitably become obsolete or problematic in the face of new challenges to their veracity. Although postmodernists may reject universalist notions of objective truth, morality and social progress, bold claims still require the marshalling of evidence.

Myth #1: Unlike Postmodernism, Science Is Objective

Postmodernism is often criticized for lacking epistemological grounds. Fair enough. Postmodernism has always been more akin to a philosophical mind-set than to a scientific theory. But scientists who boast that their specific scepticism separates them from postmodernism’s radical scepticism may want to engage in the latter periodically. At times, those who act in the name of science—both natural and social—have not been sceptical at all: in fact, their views have often been tainted by cultural, political and religious biases. Three specific examples come to mind.

The first involves scientific racism. In Superior: The Return of Race Science, Angela Saini reveals that scientists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries not only supported racial hierarchies, but believed that they were based on objective fact. This claim led to the social acceptance of everything from human zoos and the eugenics movement to white supremacist organizations. In this instance, scientists did not act as detached researchers. Their assumptions were a product of the dominant culture’s racist narrative.

A second example concerns conversion therapy. For decades, trained psychiatrists developed psychoanalytic theories in the hopes of curing unnatural sexual behaviour. One of the most prominent advocates of this therapy, Joseph Nicolosi, concluded that overbearing mothers and distant fathers caused same-sex attractions. Whenever Nicolosi’s views were challenged by gay rights supporters, he dismissed them as “political activists” posing as “objective scientists.” But it was Nicolosi who adopted dominant Christian norms surrounding procreation and dressed them up in psychoanalytic garb. The fact that Nicolosi worked at the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic proves that it was theology—not the hermeneutic science associated with psychoanalysis—that informed his methods.

The third issue relates to doctor-assisted suicide in Canada. In the late twentieth century, many physicians lobbied against its decriminalization for two reasons: it offended the sanctity of human life and was a slippery slope. But neither of these assumptions were scientific: these were faith-based arguments. Their notion of the sanctity of human life originated in the Book of Genesis, and the slippery slope allegations proved baseless. The terminally ill suffered needlessly because Christian norms guided medical ethics. By contrast, the postmodern understanding of illness moves beyond the prevailing medical narrative. As Arthur W. Frank points out in The Wounded Storyteller, dying patients often “express suspicion of medicine’s reduction of their suffering to its general unifying view.” They wish to reclaim their own voices by having their suffering “recognized in its individual particularity.” Medical practitioners opposed to doctor-assisted suicide would have benefited from this broadening of perspective.

So, is science invaluable? Absolutely. Are its truth claims perfectly objective? Absolutely not. Cultural baggage can undermine the epistemological grounds of science, resulting in confirmation bias. The usual fall-back position of anti-postmodernists is to claim that these scientists, psychiatrists and physicians were not acting in a rational or logical manner. This is precisely what postmodernism has always maintained: contingencies impede objectivity.

Myth #2: Postmodernism Encourages Dogmatism

Because interpretation and knowledge are situational, postmodernism rejects the idea of immutable truths, in stark contrast to those who embrace absolute values and impose their beliefs on others. This latter practice is the most corrosive form of perfectionism: a personality trait that incites hatred and leads to irrational acts of violence.

The examples of this are numerous. In 2011, anti-immigrant brainwashing motivated Anders Breivik to kill seventy-seven people, in order to counter the threat of multiculturalism. In 2015, racism prompted white supremacist Dylann Roof to murder nine black parishioners in a Southern Carolina church. In 2017, anti-Islamic hysteria drove Alexandre Bissonnette to kill six Muslim men in a Quebec City mosque. All three individuals are what philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “counter-cosmopolitans.” They believed in rigid, toxic narratives about culture, race and religion, which left no room for diverse perspectives.

No connection exists between postmodern thinkers and the behaviour of depraved thugs, most of whom could not name—let alone spell—a single postmodern thinker. Violent extremists already claim to possess the truth, so, from their perspective, there is no need to debate complex social issues. As Stanley Fish points out, when individuals say or do reprehensible things, “their way of talking and thinking couldn’t be further from the careful and patient elaboration of difficult problems that marks postmodern discourse.”

Yet fanatical tendencies also plague the left. Take, for example, radical feminists and their militant stance against prostitution. They insist that abolition is the only progressive solution that will allow women to achieve full gender equality and human dignity. The problem is, they marginalize all other competing narratives in order to impose their ideological worldview. For instance, radical feminists reject any scientific evidence that counters their oppression paradigm—the belief that sex workers are universally exploited and dominated, regardless of context. They also dismiss liberal and postmodern feminists because they insist on providing space for a multiplicity of sexual voices and expressions.

Postmodernists view master narratives as illusory. Sooner or later, these narratives lead to violence or imposition. Postmodernists want to prevent functional, contingent truths from becoming dogmas. It is irrelevant whether narrow, ideological thinking is co-opted by the left or by the right. Postmodernists recognize that either extreme can fail to maintain a self-critical attitude.

Myth #3: Postmodernism Rejects Enlightenment Values

Anti-postmodernists also claim that Enlightenment values are in jeopardy. Citing philosopher Stephen Hicks, Velvet Favretto contends that postmodernism leads to “a wholesale rejection of the Enlightenment’s salient ideas of reason, logic, knowledge and truth.” But the eclipse of these values has never been one of postmodernism’s core objectives. This attributes to postmodernism a political agenda it does not possess.

Under a postmodern framework, truths are considered contested and contextual, but this does not lead to an all values are equal or anything goes mentality. It does mean, however, that additional judgments are required in order to provide nuanced interpretations. This quest for broader knowledge complements the Enlightenment’s emphasis on truth-seeking. It is also in accord with the Enlightenment’s rejection of intolerance.

Western societies continue to make subtle shifts in public policy and law that respect secular values, such as truth, compassion and equality. Courts continue to make fine legal distinctions in keeping with constitutional law; physicians acknowledge inconsistencies in medical ethics, which must be tackled in order to alleviate patient suffering; and social scientists debate the soundness of research methods, as they attempt to draw more accurate conclusions. Postmodernism has not impeded this kind of progress. If anything, its emphasis on scepticism ensures that the grounds for truth are examined more carefully.

Anti-postmodernists also suggest that critical thinking is in decline in western liberal arts programs. Favretto argues that, “Courses that have embraced a postmodern viewpoint tend to harshly ostracise any conflicting perspective, thereby eroding the intellectual freedom upon which the liberal arts had hitherto relied,” and claims that one of her humanities lecturers, “seemed unaware that the course she teaches is saturated with cultural and political biases that exclude any student who holds differing views. Such is the devious nature of postmodernism in the modern classroom.” But these claims are anecdotal, not scientific.

Are post-secondary students becoming more intolerant of opposing ideas? Based on large-scale studies, Kyle Dodson has found that academic engagement promotes not intransigence but the moderation of views: “While conservative students do become more liberal as a result of academic involvement, liberals become more conservative as a result of their academic involvement … critical engagement with a diverse set of ideas—a hallmark of the college experience—challenges students to re-evaluate the strength of their political convictions.”

Likewise, a 2018 American study found that first-year college students become more tolerant of both liberal and conservative views. The authors admit that “college attendance is associated, on average, with gains in appreciating political viewpoints across the spectrum, not just favoring liberals” and conclude, “It appears as though the first year of college is doing what it should, exposing students to experiences that teach them how to think rather than what to think.”

Ironically, this research addresses Favretto’s main concern: “The liberal arts should be a place where students are challenged by their peers and by new perspectives … They should be pushed to think critically about new ideas and to reconsider and re-think their existing biases.”

Myth #4: Postmodernism is Antithetical to Both Conservatism and Liberalism

Postmodernism and conservatism share similar values, since both doctrines are founded on scepticism. Andrew Sullivan points out in The Conservative Soul that the defining characteristic of the conservative is that “he knows what he doesn’t know.” As the “guardians of doubt,” conservatives remain humble. Unlike the religious fundamentalist who believes that truth is settled, conservatives admit that knowledge is imperfect. Sullivan reminds us that the pursuit of absolute values cannot be fully reconciled with the government of mortals, who are limited by custom, feeling, habit, history and prejudice. Like postmodernists, conservatives accept that truth is not perfectly objective. Perspective always comes into play.

But, if postmodernism poses a threat to modernity, the same accusation can easily be levelled against conservative views. Because conservatism accepts truth’s contingent nature, this might lead to epistemic relativism. And, because conservatism emphasizes doubt, truth is potentially up for relativist grabs.

Conservatism has morphed into neoconservatism—a hard-right political ideology that emphasizes interventionist foreign policy and moral certitude—but should this radical version disqualify conservatism as a valuable political tradition? Thoughtful conservatives would argue that it is disingenuous to select the most extreme form of a belief system and present that as its core meaning. Instead, conservatism and neoconservatism should be judged on their own merits. If so, similar consideration should be given to postmodernism and the dogmatism currently plaguing some areas of critical studies.

Anti-postmodernists also submit that postmodernism opposes liberalism. This too is overstated. Since the late eighteenth century, liberalism has been a successful, on-going experiment. Democratic societies support both individual freedom and the freedom of others, and, when liberty conflicts with communal ethics, tensions are worked out gradually by balancing competing interests. In democracies, postmodernism poses no threat to liberty. It could just as easily enhance personal freedom by revealing how traditional structures limit constitutional rights.

What should concern anti-postmodernists more is neoliberalism, a belief that the market should reign supreme in all state and public policy decisions. This doctrine pushes aside liberal, socialist, environmental and feminist concerns in favour of market fundamentalism. Without government regulation, neoliberalism becomes freedom at other people’s expense. Postmodernists reject the dominant economic narrative that the market should decide, knowing that other viewpoints will expose what is being concealed by uber-capitalists.

The Benefits of Postmodernism

As Kenneth Houston has written elsewhere in this magazine, postmodernism is about “holding our common-sense notions up to the light and checking for cracks, prising those fissures open and upsetting our certainties and our perceived inevitabilities.” Postmodernism’s greatest asset, then, is self-reflexivity: a sharpened awareness of the need to challenge self-evident positions, including one’s own, so that new interpretations can emerge.

Michael J. Hyde notes that postmodernism acts as an “interruption,” by calling into question what has been taken for granted as common sense. Postmodernism simply asks, Are you sure? Adopting this mind-set makes us all less egotistical.

Anti-postmodernists continue to connect postmodernism to a variety of evils, including genocide, the subversion of democracy and the rise of Donald Trump. Relying on Glenn Beck-style conspiracy theories, anti-postmodernists posit their own grand narrative: all of life’s ills somehow lead back to postmodernism.

However, there is reason to be optimistic. Postmodern intellectuals have not abandoned truth values, nor do they believe that all truths possess equal merit. They simply repudiate the notion that truths are fixed for eternity. It is the arrogance of dogmatists—be they religious fundamentalists, counter-cosmopolitans or radical feminists—that makes postmodernists cringe.

Nor is postmodernism turning students into thoughtless drones. Those influenced by postmodern philosophy understand that Gandhi is not Hitler and that a qualitative distinction exists between the rhetorical eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr. and the rantings of a Tiki torch-wielding white nationalist.

Enlightenment ideals have not collapsed because postmodern intellectuals decided to challenge the authority of metanarratives. Postmodern discourse has made us more aware that the notion of absolute truth is a distortion of reality. As fallible human beings, we are all at the mercy of contingencies.

Instead of jumping to conclusions about the dangers posed by postmodernism, perhaps anti-postmodernists should heed the warning given by sixteenth-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne: “Presumption is our natural and original malady.”

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Stuart Chambers, Ph.D., teaches in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada.  He has been involved in education for over 30 years.

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31 comments
  1. Interesting piece, but wrong in many ways. Post-modernism may involve “questioning assumptions”. It actually involves substituting one rigid dogma for another. A non-post-modernist may say “What are the factors which led to the American revolution?” A post-modernist will say “The American revolution involved sexism and racism. Is there anything else that needs to be considered?” Post-modernism is, in point of fact, a movement to replace “issues of reason” with “issues of politics, specifically that you are a vicious racist who should be fired”. In the humanities, questions of the historical factors in literature have been replaced by 2 things – questions of the impact of racism and other identity factor issues, and questions about the mechanics of production. Both debase literature and the humanities, and have robbed the area of its essential …. humanity. The value of the “study of letters” is now absent, and this means that the disciplines themselves are collapsing into irrelevance.

    1. No, no, no. You’re doing that Jordan Peterson thing. You’re attempting a causal connection between some political-cultural thesis and PM. PM would ask you instead to call into question the thesis you are critiquing rather than some PM demon. You’re doing bad science, basically: misinterpreting the source of that which you wish to challenge. It’s amazing how often this error occurs.

  2. Thank you for this post. Post-modernism has always stood out to me as a good “tool” that reminds me to check my assumptions about a conclusion. However, an issue I have noticed with the paradigm is that phenomena it proports to explain can also be explained through other scientific lenses. Let’s take homophobia as an example. Psychological salience is the brain’s tendency to notice things in your environment that typically don’t occur in one’s normal routine. There are evolutionary advantages of this. As an extreme example, if I was walking down the street and saw a bear and didn’t have the ability to distinguish it as “abnormal,” this would not be advantageous to my survival. Noticing the bear as out of the ordinary allows my fight or flight response to kick in. Note I’m not putting a value statement on this, I’m just explaining it as a fact of our evolutionary development.

    Now let’s imagine we exist in a pre-internet, pre-television, and pre-social media world where exposure to new people, ideas, and places transmit very slowly. in this world, people rarely looked beyond their immediate surroundings. It makes sense that something as rare as homosexuality would have stood out as salient. Since homosexuality is relatively rare (estimates of 10%), it would make sense in this pre-electronic world that people would have needed to develop some kind of understanding of it. Since it seems humans are also evolutionary hardwired towards religious devotion and construct much of their meaning within this framework (e.g. reproduction), it would also make sense that homosexual acts would not fit with local norms and could even be considered immoral.

    I’m not condoning scientific homophobia, but given our propensity for routine and norms, as a human phenomena, it makes sense. Science has always been one way that humans create meaning and understand our world. At a time when homophobia was so salient and when religious doctrine dominated (which can also be explained scientifically), again it makes sense that science would have viewed it as dysfunctional. In an alternate universe where we were born hard-wired with knowledge that homosexuality has no negative health, psychological, or moral implications, perhaps it would have been a different story. Alas, this universe does not exist.

    Humans are in some ways no different from other primate species – we dominates and expand territory. It’s an instinct. The difference is our unique capacity for meaning. This really eliminates the need for post-modernism as a grand narrative in itself. If we can explain humans’ eagerness to dominate as a natural phenomena, post-modernism is no longer sufficient as an explanation. And, indeed, if we can understand dominance and oppression as naturally evolved human capacities, perhaps we can also understand how we can overcome these.

    1. My apologies on my spelling :/ *purport

  3. El, the way you are applying the word “truth” comes from whatever you have read about it, and those influences (i.e., Kant or others) are the reason you phrase it the way you do. That is why we have rival theories of truth. But I can guarantee you that no one in academia who uses an evidence-based approach to learning defines truth as “truth is truth.” It is not a conservative way to use the word: it is a vague, unhelpful way to use it. If it comes from a pedestal, it must be God’s because it is no more “non-provisional” than any other word. You almost give it a sacred quality. To me, it is just another word. Because we differ about its definition and meaning, that makes it de facto contingent. Different sources within different contexts shaped our understanding of the term. So, truth does depend on knowledge because whatever knowledge you have accumulated in the past has shaped your view of it. God did not create truth, and it does not exist in any perfect form. We find it along the way in conversation with others.

    But I am flexible. Replace it with any word you wish: decision, goal, aim, outcome, paradigm, etc. When resolving an issue, the final decision (the truth for now) is contingent on whatever evidence, facts, or interpretation you bring to bear on the situation. You cannot take one word out of the human vocabulary and say that it is “beyond knowing,” but those other words sure are contingent. They all are contingent because they are all historical/cultural. Thomas Kuhn’s concept of “neutral observation language” would be great if the world could speak to us, but it cannot. So, we are left to create our own words (and our own worlds), which are products of (contingent upon) culture. That includes the word “truth.”

    Whatever word you use to prove your claim, it must be connected to some standard that is useful, such as canons of evidence, accepted authorities, calculations, history of jurisprudence, etc. Otherwise, it is just semantics. I am all for epistemic humility. That is why I think postmodernism is useful. It keeps reminding me that there are no settled grounds for truth.

    When you say, “Your example doesn’t demonstrate the contingency you claim, because there is no reason a German and a Dutchman should disagree about the extent to which German doctors participated in Nazi experiments, nor about the degree to which Dutch doctors did.”

    I can think of a few reasons: the person is a eugenicist, a Nazi collaborator, a white supremacist, or just ill-informed.

  4. El, you say, “Truth simply means that which is true.” Failing to mention the source of your thinking, you are eliding here. This is just Kant’s noumenon. Some posited truth or object exists independent of human perception, and this noumenal world is completely unknowable through human sensation.

    This is just warmed-over metaphysics and of no use within public policy or law. If an object or phenomenon is unknowable (i.e., mind-independent), guess what happens next? You need to use human language and experience to describe it, which makes your version of truth contingent on many factors (culture, history, lack of experience, emotions, political agendas, rhetorical delivery, etc.).

    “Facts/knowledge are contingent, but truth is not.” I find this to be an odd claim. If truth is dependent on, or corresponds with, the facts/knowledge at hand and such facts/knowledge are contingent on one’s experiences/vocabularies, why would truth not be contingent too (i.e., provisional)? You try to squirm out of it via Kant’s noumenon. Bottom line: Truth must be grounded in something for a relevant conversation to take place, and as soon as it is grounded in anything created by humans, it is contingent and, therefore, imperfect. That is why many sources are needed, with their truth claims in tow, in the discovery of higher truths, the kind that make our lives better (just not perfect). Welcome to postmodernism 101.

    You also claim that “there is a truth to the matter about whether German doctors participated in Nazi experiments, and a truth about whether Dutch doctors did, and neither of these are contingent. It is not the case that one is the German truth and one is the Dutch truth; they are both universal truths, just one of them referring to a fact about Germany’s history and one to the Netherlands.”

    I disagree. To borrow a famous quote, these are “generally, for the most part, true.” For any of your statements to be universally true, they would have to die the death of a thousand qualifications, such as “almost no Dutch doctor who lived in Holland during the Nazi era participated in Nazi experiments,” at least as far as we know. But some German doctors may have rejected the eugenics movement, and some Dutch doctors living in Germany and Holland did. Who knows? We cannot know because we are not God.

    There is no universal truth here anymore than there is a universal language. In any case, all true statements would have to be contrasted with false ones, else there is no meaning to their being true. And false statements in this, as in any other question, are equally as contextual. And there is a significant number of them, so the true statement is only true relative to specific contextualized false statements.

    Basically, any given truth claim is a bit of crapshoot, as is life in general, something metaphysicians tend to deny. That perfect truth “somewhere out there that we cannot know” is a conversation stopper. When the shit hits the fan, details are needed that are messy to sort out—and definitely contingent.

    1. “This is just warmed-over metaphysics and of no use within public policy or law.”

      So what if there are domains where this concept of truth isn’t that useful? Is “truth” anywhere near the most standard way for lawyers or judges to refer to the latest supreme court ruling and its implications? Do policy experts describe their recommendations as “truth”? Who needs “truth” to mean what you are using it to mean beyond postmodern philosophers explaining the contingency of “truth”? Our language is not short on words for the provisional beliefs we have about the world. Use them! But don’t take away “truth,” because there aren’t so many ways of expressing the concept of that unprovisional thing we are seeking, and if you turn “truth” into yet another word for provisional beliefs for which we have many words already then it is a strict loss in terms of what concepts we can express or think in English. And as I pointed out earlier even you managed to find a use for a non-provisional meaning of “truth”, so it is a useful concept to have, even if we should definitively apply it to very little. The usefulness of the word is proportional to the frequency with which people wish to express the concept, not simply the frequency with which we can be certain we have encountered what it refers to.

      “I find this to be an odd claim. If truth is dependent on, or corresponds with, the facts/knowledge at hand and such facts/knowledge are contingent on one’s experiences/vocabularies, why would truth not be contingent too (i.e., provisional)?”

      I don’t believe I claimed that facts or knowledge are provisional; that’s not consistent with how I use “facts”, though I could get on board with using “knowledge” in a provisional way. (For example, describing Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system as “knowledge which has been superseded” rather than something that in retrospect was never knowledge seems reasonable to me but I’m not sure I want to commit myself to a definition of it where this is valid.) Truth doesn’t depend on knowledge. Certainly “knowledge” refers to something human constructed that is intended to correspond to truth and frequently does to some degree.

      “For any of your statements to be universally true, they would have to die the death of a thousand qualifications”

      To be completely accurate that would need lots of qualification. What I meant when I called them universal is that they are not contingent on the culture that believes them. They are two separate claims *about* two cultures, not a single claim contingent on culture. Your example doesn’t demonstrate the contingency you claim, because there is no reason a German and a Dutchman should disagree about the extent to which German doctors participated in Nazi experiments, nor about the degree to which Dutch doctors did.

      “Basically, any given truth claim is a bit of crapshoot, as is life in general, something metaphysicians tend to deny.”

      I don’t deny that.

      “That perfect truth “somewhere out there that we cannot know” is a conversation stopper.”

      I haven’t found it to be so.

      I think we are both in agreement on the virtues of epistemic humility. But I suspect we have very different beliefs about how use of the word “truth” encourages or discourages this. I think the way to do it is to keep the definition of “truth” narrow, be conservative in applying it, and question others’ claims to have it. Whereas your approach seems to involve broadening the use of it but taking “truth” down from its pedestal. I suspect your approach won’t work because I think most people have a definition closer to mine and it’s hard for academia to change the definition of a common word, but I may be wrong. I also have a pretty strong aversion in general to newspeaky attempts to change how people think by changing the meanings of words for concepts we wish people weren’t expressing, but I recognize that if you’ve always seen truth as meaning what you think it does your definition won’t come across the same way to you.

  5. Scientific method is based on the assumption that scientists will bring their subjective biases with them, whether they intend to or not, and provides a simple architecture to eliminate those biases from their work.

    In other words, science is objective, even while scientists are not. It’s a solution to the problem posed by that. I learned that in high school, all while seldom getting a grade above a C. It’s comforting to know that some people got even worse grades.

  6. Salvador Dali was a brilliant artist whose work challenged our perceptions of reality. Very post-modern. He was also a card-carrying member of Spain’s fascist party. Art was the ideal place for him to explore his ideas. But thank God he wasn’t a policy maker.

  7. So is Focault’s work generally postmodern? Is the notion that knowledge is socially constructed by the powerful in order to maintain their power a postmodern notion?

    On the one hand, Focault seems to elevate his particular notion of power to a grand narrative which he sees as explaining far more than it really does, and even the notion of social construction depends on the notion of a society to engage in that construction — but society is more of a narrative we have to make sense of the world than any objectively existing thing in that world, and in today’s world of fractured online discourse “society” is a notion with less explanatory power than ever. So I suppose this could all be dismissed as not post-modern, because it is vulnerable to postmodern critique.

    On the other hand, not calling this stuff postmodernism would be excluding a huge chunk of thought that has regarded itself as part of the postmodern tradition from that tradition. Of course in reducing postmodernism to some tiny defensible core of it, you do render most criticism of postmodernism inapplicable — but you also leave it unrebutted in the context of the actual target of that criticism.

    1. This illustrates the truth of our being a nation of people separated by a common language! That said, once a version of truth is accepted as corresponding to the facts (and facts can be cherry-picked), as soon as new facts/knowledge come to light, that new version of the truth is contingent on whatever knowledge/facts appear next. And understanding the vocabulary and experiences of the people presenting this new knowledge takes time. These people also bring with them their own sets of preferences. Telling someone the truth about gravity is easy. Telling anyone the truth about euthanasia policy is not so easy. I prefer to say this: this is the truth FOR NOW (which is dependent upon what we know now and what we do not know).

    2. Stuart,

      It looks like your reply here was meant as a reply to my other post on the definitions of truth. If I’m wrong about that I really don’t understand what any of this has to do with the question of whether Focault or social constructivism are part of postmodernism.

      Preferring my definition of truth I would say the following:

      “as soon as new facts/knowledge come to light, that new version of the truth is contingent on whatever knowledge/facts appear next. And understanding the vocabulary and experiences of the people presenting this new knowledge takes time. ”

      Instead of “truth”, why not refer to “paradigms” a la Kuhn, as there is much good writing referring to what you’re calling “truth” here that way? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift

      “Telling someone the truth about gravity is easy.”

      On the contrary, I would say telling someone about Newton’s theory of Gravitation is easy. Telling them about Einstein’s more accurate theory of General Relativity is harder. As for the truth, what we know currently is that the theory of general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics, which many consider a strong sign we still don’t know the full truth about gravity! The funny thing about this is that scientists have long been comfortable speaking of their knowledge as “theories”, a word laypeople understand to implicitly mean provisional knowledge — there was no need to change a word laypeople understand to mean not provisional into something provisional to convey to scientists that scientific knowledge is provisional. Who in science would instead speak of the “truth” of gravity? Why again does science need “truth” to mean that, when careful scientists have been avoiding claiming it anyway?

      “Telling anyone the truth about euthanasia policy is not so easy.”

      I would say “Euthanasia, true or false?” is not a meaningful question. “Should we legalize euthanasia?” is a question worth discussing, but obviously a normative question not a positive one, one I might be convinced to answer “yes” or “no” but would never answer “true” or “false”. Per your reply to Jurek, there is a truth to the matter about whether German doctors participated in Nazi experiments, and a truth about whether Dutch doctors did, and neither of these are contingent. It is not the case that one is the German truth and one is the Dutch truth; they are both universal truths, just one of them referring to a fact about Germany’s history and one to the Netherlands’. Likewise there may be a truth to the matter about this resulting in different levels of trust in doctors in the two societies. These differences may be judged by some sufficient to tip the balance of considerations in favor of euthanasia in one country but not in another. But this is a balance, it is not a black-and-white truth, not even one that is black or white on a per-society level. Thinking of it as a truth to be discerned is counterproductive I think, as it leads to an all or nothing view of it where once you’ve picked a side of the scale you deny the existence of everything on the other side of the scale, perhaps disregarding the risks of abuse in the Netherlands or the needless suffering in Germany. There is no “truth” here, just a decision that societies need to make, that they may make differently, on the basis of numerous considerations, some of which could be spoken of as having a truth and some not.

      There is plenty worth discussing beyond what meets that unattainable ideal “truth”. Let’s discuss opinions, speculations, predictions, theories, beliefs, norms, values, etc. Having varied language to talk about the things we as a society debate makes much clearer the muddiness of it than calling it all “truth” and insisting truth is muddy as well.

    3. EL, let’s just start with your definition of the word “truth,” and go from there. I am genuinely interested in it (the one you would consistently use).

    4. Truth simply means that which is true. It does not mean that which is widely believed, nor that which people say is the truth, nor that which experts in the relevant fields generally agree to be true, nor whatever results from the scientific method or rational deliberation, but all these things reflect attempts to discern the truth and to the extent that attempting to discern truth in these ways can work they will often overlap with the truth.

  8. It is true that postmodernism and its affiliated philosophical schools are not primarily interested in topics like objective truth, enlightenment values or theological dogmatism. They are not interested in changing certain types of politics and correcting disadvantages or discrimination. What the current wave of postmodern philosophies want is simply to destroy Western civilisation. The reason is not unclear. Fields like Gender Studies, Critical Whiteness and Deconstruction, all summed up in academic wraps of the prefix “critical” are not responsible, or have in any way influenced the most important social changes in Western societies. These changes were either the effect of capitalist globalisation, (which is denounced in this text again as “neoliberalism”) and the great escape from world wide poverty due to capitalist transformation after 1990 or they were the result of the 60s civil rights movement legal changes and laws of equality which were all in place at the mid 70s and haven’t changed a lot since then. What postmodernists have done is to invent new justifications for their existence as tenured professors. While Western societies, the US and Europe alike, have become the most equal and fair societies in all of history, postmodernists have come up with “whiteness” as the root of all problems, decolonizing societies which have no colonies (and never had ones) or fantasizing about “toxic masculinity”, when domestic violence, crime and violent behaviour are at a historic low. Let’s be clear here: all those scholars and postmodern bullshitters have done nothing at all to improve society. No “critical whiteness” professor has done anything than to make polarization bigger. That’s their job and their purpose. These are toxic people.


    The most important developments in anti-racism were done by the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, later developments which ended in “critical whiteness” and “critical race theory” did not introduce anything new, but became a parasite of existing, which only served one reason: to guarantee a class of intellectuals income, jobs and effortless reproduction. They have to produce strive in order to have a job. It would be meaningless to have “critical race theory” professor if society wouldn’t be in total disarray and on the brink of the introduction of slavery. There is a reason why Martin Luther King and his vision is practically buried, while the one Malcolm X is the dominant paradigm. Postmodernists need polarization.

    The article itself is good example. It never mentions once that postmodernism as a philosophical endeavour in the United States (and Europe as well) is mostly introduced, supported and fostered by Marxists and former communist and hard left intellectuals, who sought for a new revolutionary subject. Instead of a proletariat which failed to do the revolution, now the people of colour are the new hope for revolution in which the hated “neo-liberal” economic order, which was unfortunately so successful that it has improved the living of billions will be finally overcome, so the justice seeking bullshitters will have their Gulag and can command the firing squads. It was the idea of postmodernists to prevent any critical account on Islam. The ones who forget this and do not mention the Marxist umbrella of postmodernism have their own agenda and I don’t think it is very good one.

    Postmodernists, as they all have declared time and time again, want to “change the narrative” by destroying the origins of Western success, namely Christianity and capitalist markets. They want equity, because they don’t understand that communism is a bad idea for wanting only the good. People who only want to do good are terrorists, intellectual terrorists and mass murdering terrorists. The real driver of progress and civilisation is inequality. Societies only thrive on the basis of inequality. Until this is understood and properly addressed the fight against tyranny is the fight against fascist and communist ideologues, who disguise as postmodernists.

    1. Nice conspiracy theory. I think that if you read one book by respected postmodern thinkers like Richard Rorty or Gianni Vattimo, you want not find a single one of your statements in their books. You need to work this out all on your own.

    2. “I think that if you read one book by respected postmodern thinkers like Richard Rorty or Gianni Vattimo”

      Well, if you had read what I wrote, then you might have encountered the fact that I spoke of Gender Studies, Critical Whiteness and Deconstruction, and not necessarily of Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo, who is – fair enough – a follower of Derrida and has written on subjectivity and Nietzschean topics.

      I don’t know too much about Rorty, but It is questionable that Vattimo would himself call “postmodern”, a term Foucault rejected and also Derrida and for that matter Lacan. Postmodernists rarely consider themselves postmodern, because they don’t like labels. Postmodernist thinking is about destruction in the Heideggerian sense, but Heidegger wasn’t very postmodern either. Your description of postmodernism is flawed, because it treats a wide array of literature as a defined canon and this is for sure not very postmodern.


      Thi sline caught my attention: ” Since” truth, knowledge and interpretation are human constructs and therefore limited, we must always be aware of their contingent nature.” that sounds great but is a just meaningless bullshit. It is a confusion of what concepts are as objects and what they represent. Postmodern logic is to identify those two different levels. Truth is a human construct, but the nature of truth as relationship between human beings and the nature that surrounds them is not. If truth is contingent, then it makes sense at all to speak of truth, or knowledge. If truth and knowledge are contingent, then it makes no sense at all to read books or to be a philosopher, because then it would be impossible to pass knowledge and truth about anything to other people in time. If truth is contingent, then lying must be equal to speak truth, or better the word truth then makes no sense at all. The contingency idea is a rhetorical gesture without any meaning, which only destroys the concept itself, but on the other hand: that’s what postmodernists do. They destruct the notion of truth, because this destroys Western civilisation.my conspiracy theory is not a conspiracy theory, you are doing this by your own without a proper understanding of consequences. Consequence are contingent anyway.


      Interpretation on the other hand is a human construct and change over time and is contingent, but truth and interpretation are not on the same level as concepts. So, in short: this is a conceptual mess and a strange lack of precision in thinking.

      You are doing this for another reason, namely to avoid a discussion about the terms I mentioned.

      So, ignoring the phenomena of “critical whiteness” which caused the riots at Evergreen and not mentioning gender studies or any other “critical studies”, “postcolonial studies” is crucial to your understanding. One can ask why that is. my guess: you know that these topics are total bullshit, but you try to come across as a serious thinker, so you try to focus on the more serious stuff, like Rorty and Vattimo and probably Frederic Jameson.

      I wish you good luck in achieving a career, but honestly the left wing cultural hegemony of postmodernist thinking will give you a hard time and you can try to do the “neoliberalism” bullshit to get a grip on the Marxist end of the bargain. In the end this won’t work. If you do not criticise your white privilege and confess your sin to be a white male, you are doomed to failure in this world.

    3. “truth, knowledge and interpretation are human constructs and therefore limited, we must always be aware of their contingent nature.”

      The contingency idea is especially interesting, because it is so self contradictory. If truth and knowledge AND interpretation as well are contingent, which means they change and have no fixed established nature, the only fixed and established nature becomes contingency. Bullshit statements like “everything is relative” reflect the same contradiction. If everything is relative, then the term “everything” is in itself wrong and relativity is absolute, which is obviously a contradiction. If truth is contingent, then contingency is the pattern that shapes truth. Whatever it may be, you end up with a thinking that cannot escape the necessary component of a fixed and established nature of things.

      Hegel discovered this contradiction in the “phenomenology of spirit” a long time ago. The abandonment of the absolute in terms of category does not abandon the absolute or any other metaphysical category like truth and knowledge. What happens is that contingency, your term, becomes a substitute for the absolute and in the worst case, postmodernism, not even aware of it.

      Postmodern thinking is the state of not being aware of this contradiction.

    4. No postmodern intellectual I know equates known lies with truth (i.e., that the Holocaust is a lie is the same worth as saying it happened; the liar’s version is contingent upon, or based on, propaganda; the truth teller’s version is contingent upon, or based on, a mountain of evidence). That truth or knowledge is contingent is not some vague statement. Doctors can perform euthanasia in Holland because they did not participate in Nazi experiments, but doctors in Germany were willing participants in Nazi eugenics and were not trusted with euthanasia (that law is currently being challenged in court). These societies developed different notions of trust in doctors because of historical circumstances (contingencies). Neither society is making this up out of thin air, neither is lying about the circumstances, and these are not post-truth statements. Understanding this can push the debate forward on euthanasia, but that requires the reading of books on German political history, Dutch medical ethics, philosophy, the eugenics movement, etc. to get an understanding of how the debate can shift. The two cultures can then learn from each other. Truth is always found in a conversation of competing claims that are dependent on contingent understandings of an issue. This invites pluralism, and this is usually what fans of Jordan Peterson hate. They like traditions and certainties. Life does not work that way. But if someone reads postmodern intellectuals and then says, “my truth is as good as any other,” maybe they need to read more. What they can say is this: “I have another version of truth ( a ‘mini-narrative’) that adds to the conversation.” Very postmodern, and I am all for that.

      Lastly, you use this statement: Truth is a human construct, but the “nature” of truth as relationship between human beings and the “nature” that surrounds them is not. What do you mean by “nature”?

  9. Stuart,

    I do agree with the injunction to be suspicious of “grand narratives” (whatever that means) because they might be loaded with political, religious, or cultural biases. I also wholeheartedly support that skepticism is not only useful but vital to critical thinking. However, one does not need to commit to postmodernism to grant that.

    Said that, I think your question “what is the truth of doctor-assisted suicide?” is a bit confusing, because it is not clear what exactly you want to know (or what you would like me to answer).

    I guess you wanted to ask me this: do you think that for the Canadian Supreme Court, doctor-assisted suicide is right or wrong?

    If an institution judges a medical practice to be morally wrong or illegal at one point in time, and later on judges the very same medical practice morally right or legal, it does not render doctor-assisted suicide as “untrue”. Nor such medical practice is “true” if the institution did not changed its opinion across time. (As someone else in the comments points out, I think you are confusing value judgements with facts of the matter.)

    There is a fundamental distinction that is crucial to any “good” philosophy. It is the distinction between nature and convention. This distinction emphasizes the impossibility of reducing decisions or norms to facts. “Decisions are facts”, it is said. But this tendency to conflate both of them makes it very difficult (if not impossible) to discuss matters in a clear and fruitful way.

    Postmodernism tends to reject this fundamental distinction altogether, reducing things that *are*, and things which *ought to be* to a single category. As a consequence, postmodernists can (effortlessly) discard as mere narrative any argument about whether something corresponds to the facts, or about whether some action is to be judged as acceptable or unacceptable. This I find to be a terrible mistake, because it destroys the possibility for the rational discussion of ideas.

    Besides, I cannot help but to find postmodern philosophy self-defeating, because the whole thing is a meta-narrative that asks itself to be rejected as such.

  10. @Stuart: sorry, can’t reply in chain for some reason. I wouldn’t for a moment deny that scientists and doctors can be skewed by theology or secular equivalents. My point was that saying someone working at a Thomas Aquinus institute ‘proves’ anything is incredibly simplistic. I’m also not clear because of the underlying issue about ‘truth’ what you mean by saying that he got the relationship reversed. You seem to state that as if he was wrong and we are now right. But if truth is not eternal, maybe his view will come back into vogue and then it will be true again? If in 100 years most people are confident that being gay is neither genetic nor parental but freely chosen wickedness will that be true?

    When you say doctors were ‘certain’ there would be a slippery slope it feels to me like you’re using ‘certain’ as a word to apply to opponent’s views – I imagine various doctors argued it with greater or lesser certainty, as is true for most positions people debate. Slippery slope arguments in particular are often precautionary in nature: more ‘this might happen and if it did it would be bad’. Personally I support euthanasia in principle but would closely scrutinise any proposal to be clear about how far it would go. I’m also not convinced doctors are trained not to speculate on matters of social policy. In any case ‘without evidence’ is less damning than it sounds when it’s hard to know in advance whether a policy will lead to a slippery slope: it’s something that is often weighed in theory, and slippery slopes definitely do exist (e.g. counter-terrorism powers being taken on the argument we need them to stop someone with a bomb right now being used routinely by police).

    1. Hi Bernard: What matters most is the habit of seeking truth. Nicolosi never struggled with truth; he just declared that he had the answer based on Christian-centric norms surrounding procreation as the ideal good and natural law. He had no evidence, and no one could convince him otherwise. The direction that conversion therapy is going in is that it will be banned by law for minors as a form of child abuse. This is already occurring. But nothing is deterministic. Postmodernism just says that this is the truth for now. Truth always evolves, but postmodernism does not dictate a direction; humans do that when vying for truth. Take the current abortion laws in America. Several states last year made the most draconian laws in a century. Postmodernists are suspicious about the master narratives/foundational thinking of the governors of these states, which is the Christian sanctity of life ethos, but the issue is complex and requires various narratives to work out a law that is constitutional. The governors changing the law do not care. Patient and careful deliberation with other voices (the crux of postmodernism) is the last thing on their mind. That is why postmodernism poses a threat to them: it allows more voices in. Their arrogance will not permit these voices from undermining their narrative.


      As for euthanasia, we should scrutinize possible negative consequences, yes, but doctors opposed to euthanasia never bothered: they just dismissed euthanasia because they felt it would lead to Nazi-style atrocities (again, zero evidence). I claim that not only are these doctors not acting scientifically (they are only going on a hunch), but that they did so because of religious biases. In other words, I became suspicious of their narratives (too neat and clean), and then I found evidence to back my claims, as the links below indicate. What this evidence below shows is that sometimes scientists (i.e., doctors) have other motives when maintaining the status quo.


      Peter Baume, Emma O’Malley and Adrian Bauman, “Professed Religious Affiliation and the Practice of Euthanasia,” Journal of Medical Ethics 21 (1995); B. Broeckaert et al., “Palliative Care Physicians’ Religious/World View and Attitude towards Euthanasia: A Quantitative Study among Flemish Palliative Care Physicians,” Indian J Palliat Care 15, no. 1 (Jan.-Jun., 2009).

  11. Luckily for me, my math classes from kindergarten to grade 13 taught me that 2+2=4. The same truth held steady for university stats classes. Thankfully, postmodern intellectuals never got hold of the math curriculum. 🙂

  12. There’s an ambiguity in the idea that truth and knowledge are ‘human constructs’. If you mean it’s humans who know things and are someetimes wrong it’s uncontroversial. Similary, ‘scientists should be sceptical and may be mistaken’ is self-evident and not unique to post-modernism. But when you say If it means that science is just a ‘big story about the world’ comparable to e.g. the beliefs of ancient egyptians, modern new agers, or any other group it’s far more questionable. As part of this I’m left a bit confused as to how the piece defines post-modernism. For instance, are the critics mentioned not also post-modernist by the standard of ‘questioning things includings ones own potential bias’? Helen P certainly seems to meet that description.

    For someone arguing for questioning/scepticism/nuance, the specifc cases seem pretty weak. E.g. ‘The fact that Nicolosi worked at the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic proves that it was theology—not the hermeneutic science associated with psychoanalysis—that informed his methods.’ is absurd: someone’s workplace being named for a religious figure or even having a strong religious link can’t possibly prove that their methods are based on religion not science/psychoanalysis. Physicians saying they believe in the sanctity of life aren’t ‘doing science’ and I don’t think they or the critics of postmodernism you name would claim they were.

    1. But Nicolosi claimed he was being objective in his analysis, but he had cause and effect reversed: overbearing mothers and distant fathers may be the effect of being gay, not the cause. A cursory reading of Nicolosi and his ilk show that religion dominated their thinking on reparative therapy. And doctors in Canada in the 1990s were certain that euthanasia would lead to a slippery slope, so why would they make that claim without evidence, something they are trained not to do? The evidence there shows that faith positions guided their thinking too. So science is not some fable, but those who speak in its name can, from time to time, shape laws and public policy based on personal or cultural prejudices, even though they are convinced they are not. In secularization theory, we call this “religion by other means.” Theologians worry about divine wrath, whereas doctors say slippery slope. Both are often faith positions with no factual basis.

    2. PS: I meant to add that if you’re attacking narratives/bias etc. it’s really helpful if the examples aren’t all ‘the other guy’. I know you generously admitted that the left faced this too, but of course you chose radical anti-sexwork feminists. The feminists supporting the right to sex work can also be quite absolutist about how their view is definitely right (FWIW I tend to agree with the latter, but that doesn’t mean people don’t approach it in a dogmatic way).

      More generally, there are all sorts of narratives and certainties in the world of social justice as well as the list of right-wing cases you gave. I’d argue that e.g. anti-racist narratives are in many ways more worked out and in many was more succesful (at least in modern America) than the counter-cosmopolitan ones you mention. Their advocates don’t tend to give the impression that they think their overall structure of beliefs about power, race and oppression might be wrong. So a general observation that people get caught up in their own narratives and get absolutist about them is valuable: but it’s less convincing when it seems to be a stick to beat enemies with.

      Finally: ‘The authors admit that “college attendance is associated, on average, with gains in appreciating political viewpoints across the spectrum, not just favoring liberals”’. ‘Admit’ implies that they set out committed to the opposite view and confronted with irrefutable evidence had to concede they were wrong. The tone of the link you provide suggests that actually they went looking for this exact result and got it. (Beyond that I have no idea how robust it is compared to other things I’ve seen suggesting that e.g. more highly educated people have more caricatured, less accurate views of the other political ‘side’.)

  13. “One of the key pillars of Critical Race Theory, one of the contemporary Critical faiths holding much relevant sway today, is fundamental critique of liberalism and a generally anti-liberal stance. Like with its Frankfurt School forebears, Critical Race Theory sees liberalism as a means by which the dominant (white) society fools the subordinated (black and other people of color) into believing they have a fair chance, thus convincing them not to agitate for a social revolution. The “Critical” game is to point at the flaws in advanced liberal societies (which are the least oppressive on Earth) and say, “Well, no one would want to live in liberal societies because look how bad they are. Look how they fail!” This is what critical theory is, ultimately: doing this. Learning to do this. It’s completely wrong. Most people do prefer liberal societies where their morals are a matter of personal conscience and result from reflection combined with willful participation in vital communities around them.”

    More: https://newdiscourses.com/2020/05/liberalism-anti-liberal-moral-order/

  14. Knowledge and interpretation are indeed human constructs, but truth is not. Truth is, that which corresponds to the facts. Truth is therefore a standard, which postmodernists reject, and which “objectivists” take seriously.

    This conceptualization of truth, however, does not contradict the fact that absolute knowledge—that is, certain knowledge—is impossible, something which both “objectivists” and postmodernists do accept. But postmodernists—in contrast to the objectivists—do not even grant that (mind-independent) facts exist in the first place, so their whole worldview collapses into an epistemic relativism that fails to explain the world in any other terms than *socially constructed* phenomena. As such, it is in my opinion, bad philosophy.

    1. Okay Daniel, what is the “truth” of doctor-assisted suicide? In 1993, the Canadian Supreme Court rejected it, but by 2015, that same Supreme Court found that the Criminal Code provisions against assisted-suicide were unconstitutional. By 2016, Canada allowed doctor-assisted suicide (medical assistance in dying). So how could the same court come up with two different versions of the truth? Answer: knowledge, interpretation, and facts shift over time, so truth shifts as the legal, political, and social landscape changes. In other words, truth has to be worked out; it’s not 2+2=4. Truth is provisional. It is dependent on one’s interpretation of facts, one’s accumulation of knowledge, one’s political aims, and one’s emotional responses to phenomena. In 1993, 7/10 Canadians supported doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, yet that “fact” was not enough to change the law. Thousands of people suffered pointless deaths in the early 1990s in Canada, yet that “fact” did not change the law. Why not? In 1993, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada bought into the grand narrative that the sanctity of life was more important than the individual’s right to an assisted death. All postmodernism asks is to be suspicious of such grand narratives because they are often loaded with political, religious, or cultural biases. And that scepticism is not only useful but vital to critical thinking.

    2. Doctor-assisted sucide is a value judgment, not a verifiable truth. But you knew that when you wrote your screed. Freedom is the ability to say 2+2=4.

      “Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’


      ‘Yes,’ said Winston.


      O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.


      ‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’


      ‘Four.’


      ‘And if the party says that it is not four but five — then how many?’”


      — George Orwell, “1984”

    3. So this does seem to be a purely semantic disagreement on the definition of “truth”. There is clearly no substantive difference, at least among participants in this thread, between the claims “truth is provisional” and “knowledge and interpretation are indeed human constructs, but truth is not”. Wandering into such disputes is usually pointless, but I think there are lots of good reasons to prefer Daniel’s definition. For starters, it is the more conventional definition, and the rejection of the conventional definition is the source of much of the misunderstanding of and hostility toward postmodernism that this article seeks to address, and further it contributes to the impression (fair or not) of postmodernists as people who use language adversarially — deliberately seeking lack of clarity — perhaps in order to render nonsense too slippery to criticize, or to make banal insights seem radical, or to make yourself seem smarter by being difficult to understand. (http://www.openculture.com/2013/07/jean_searle_on_foucault_and_the_obscurantism_in_french_philosophy.html)

      Under the conventional definition, truth is not provisional, but our understanding of it is. The truth is not provisional part is just a tautology; there is no disagreement to be had there if you agree to use my definition of truth. For example it was once widely believed that the sun revolved around the Earth, then it later became more widely believed that the Earth revolved around the sun, but the truth never changed, just our beliefs about what the truth was. This definition of truth is a bit idealized in that we can never be certain to possess such a truth, so why have a word for the ideal, rather than the messy reality of our never-quite-right understanding of truth? Because the alternative is to have no word whatsoever that refers to that ideal, and that makes it in my opinion harder, not easier, to talk about how our understanding in reality falls short of that ideal. As an example, I would point to Stuart’s reply to Bernard: “What matters most is the habit of seeking truth.” I would assert that in this one instance, Stuart is using my and Daniel’s definition of truth, and not the one he uses in the article. The “truth” in “truth is provisional” refers to what we have, not what we are seeking, whereas the “truth” in Daniel’s post refers to what we are seeking, not something he claims we have. Explaining the difference between our present reality and the ideal we seek is difficult if we don’t keep that distinction alive in our language. Yes, people will incorrectly claim to have the “truth”, but this is more clearly challenged by questioning whether their claims of truth are really truth than by dispensing with the concept of truth altogether in favor of a concept that covers whatever people generally believe.